DENVER | Colorado lawmakers ended a special session of the Legislature Tuesday without a fix to an intricate spending law that stripped some quasi-governmental agencies of the ability to collect sales taxes on recreational marijuana.
The session, which gaveled in Monday morning and out by Tuesday afternoon, was marked by squabbling between the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-controlled House.
The rancor shouldn’t have been a surprise; Republicans protested loudly when Gov. John Hickenlooper first ordered a special session in September, saying they were given little notice or input, and continued blasting the Democratic governor this week for a special session they considered wasteful. Hickenlooper pointed blame at the GOP-led Senate, saying they put politics first.
House Democrats said lawmakers had a duty to fix an error inserted into a negotiated spending law intended to spare rural hospitals deep budget cuts while providing $1.9 billion for transportation. In the process, the new law inadvertently removed the power of Denver’s Regional Transportation District and other so-called special districts to collect standard state sales taxes on recreational marijuana.
Lawmakers of both parties agreed that was unintentional. But Democrats and Republicans were split on how urgently the agencies needed that taxing authority restored — and whether the legislature had the power to do it.
Senate Democrats’ proposed fix died on Monday in a committee, and a similar proposal approved by the House met the same fate on Tuesday afternoon. Both chambers adjourned soon after that 3-2 party line vote in the Senate committee.
None of the agency leaders, including representatives for Denver’s transit authority, said they plan to make cuts right now, acknowledging that the money is a fraction of most organizations’ budgets. But leaders said service cuts to programs providing transit, housing and the arts could become necessary in the coming months.
“We’re talking impacts to real Coloradans,” said Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran in a statement. “The Summit County worker who’ll have a harder time finding an affordable apartment. The Lakewood retiree who needs the bus to get to the grocery store and the doctor.”
Republicans put much of the blame on the governor, saying Hickenlooper failed to work with them before calling a special session. Members also questioned whether a fix violated provisions of Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
“The three months between now and January give us the time we need to work through issues that were impossible to resolve in a surprise special session,” Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham said in a statement. “We agree that finding a solution to the bill-drafting mistake is possible and we regret any hardships the glitch may be causing in some of the special districts.”
Hickenlooper said in a statement that the GOP-led Senate “refused to fix an error.”
“In the end, partisan politics overshadowed the clear intentions of Colorado voters,” he said. “These tactics only divide us and fuel cynicism. We have been raised to own up to our mistakes and fix them. Most Coloradans believe these values should apply to everyone, especially to government.”